Fannie Lou Hamer
(1917-1977)

Previous page | In 1964, SNCC founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) as an alternative to the official Democratic Party. At the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, the MFDP delegates challenged the Mississippi delegation, charging that it did not truly represent the people of the state since blacks were not allowed to vote. Although the MFDP gained more seats in the primary than the established Democratic Party, their delegates were not seated. Fannie Lou Hamer's moving speech to the Credentials Committee, showing that the denial of voting rights to blacks in Mississippi was inextricably linked to the systematic discrimination and the injustices heaped upon them, was aired on national television and brought to light the insidious racist practices in Mississippi. Her testimony focused on the brutal violence and economic reprisals perpetrated against blacks who sought to exercise their right to vote. A compromise was reached giving the MFDP two seats, to which Fannie Lou Hamer retorted: "We didn't come all this way for no two seats when all of us is tired." In a surprising turn of events, the Democratic Party reached a novel decision, guaranteeing that no delegation without black delegates would be seated at the 1968 convention. In the same year, Fannie Lou Hamer ran for Congress as an MFDP candidate, only to be thwarted by the official Democratic Party in the primary.

The Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965, which made it illegal to deny any adult US citizen the right to vote and guaranteed federal protection of that right was, in part, due to Fannie Lou Hamer's testimony at the 1964 Democratic convention. In 1968, Fannie Lou Hamer took her seat at the Democratic Convention in Chicago to a standing ovation.

She continued, as she had always done, to organize grass roots initiatives, mainly cooperatives designed to aid needy families, in Mississippi. In 1971 she was instrumental in the founding of the National Women's Political Caucus but politically, her views were divergent from those of the white feminists. She thought that they could not really comprehend the plight and concerns of black women, and did not see themselves as part of the same struggle for, as she expressed in her own inimitable way: "Sometimes I really feel sorrier for the white woman than I feel for ourselves because she been caught up in this thing, caught up in feeling special.... I been watching you, baby.... You had this kind of angel feeling that you were untouchable.... But [the white woman's] freedom is shackled in chains to mine, and she realizes that she is not free until I am free."

She was sought after as a speaker into the 1970s and received many honorary degrees and awards, including a lifetime membership in the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

On March 14, 1977, Fannie Lou Hamer, suffering from cancer, diabetes and heart disease, died in Mississippi. Although "sick and tired of being sick and tired," this unlettered woman's courage, leadership, determination and commitment to the civil rights struggle was exemplary, transforming herself and many others in the process.
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Books

Fannie Lou Hamer and the Fight for the Vote, Penny Coleman, Millbrook Press, 1994.
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Fannie Lou Hamer: Fighting for the Right to Vote, Laura Baskes Litwin, Enslow Publishers Inc, 2002.
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Fannie Lou Hamer: From Sharecropping to Politics, David Rubel, Silver Burdett Press, 1990.
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For Freedom's Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, Chana Kai Lee, University of Illinois Press, 1999.
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This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, Kay Mills, Plume, 1994.
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Search for 'Fannie Lou Hamer' on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.
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Links

Videos & DVDs

Fannie Lou Hamer: Everyday Battle (2000). VHS, 30 minutes.
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